Posted on May 6, 2014 by Family Christian
Posted on May 2, 2014 by Family Christian
Two Thousand Stairs
The farther backward you look, the further forward you
are likely to see.
We hopped on a double-decker bus and headed toward the heart of Rome. Lora and I had spent a year planning the trip, but nothing prepares you to stand in the very place where Caesars ruled an empire or gladiators battled to the death. As we walked the Via Sacra, we were stepping on the same two-thousand-year-old stones that conquering armies marched on. Of course, I’m guessing they weren’t licking gelatos. Our three days in the Eternal City went by far too fast. And I wish we hadn’t waited until our fifteenth anniversary to take the trip.
Few places on earth are as historic or romantic as Rome. We thoroughly enjoyed strolling the ancient streets, people-watching in the piazzas, and eating leisurely meals at sidewalk cafés. And like good tourists, we also hit all the must-see travel-book destinations. We threw pennies over our shoulders into the Trevi Fountain, enjoyed an unplugged concert by an electric guitarist outside the Colosseum one moonlit evening, and took a three-hour tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. And all the sites lived up to their travel-book billing. But one of the unexpected highlights of our trip was an unplanned visit to a rather nondescript church off the beaten path. It wasn’t referenced in our travel guides. And if it hadn’t been right around the corner from our hotel, we would never have discovered it. The Church of San Clemente was named after the fourth pope, who was martyred for his faith. According to legend, anchors were tied around his ankles and he was thrown into the Black Sea.
From the outside, the church appeared weather-beaten and timeworn. But the frescoes, statues, and altars on the inside were remarkably well preserved. We quietly explored every nook and cranny of that twelfth-century church. Then we discovered that for five extra euros we could take an underground tour. As was the case with many of the ruins we visited in Rome, there were several layers of history in the same place. The Romans had a habit of building things on top of things. Some emperors, for example, would tear down their predecessor’s palace and build their own palace right on top of it. Such was the case with the Church of San Clemente. The twelfth-century church was built over a fourth-century church. And beneath the fourth-century church were catacombs where second-century Christians secretly worshiped God before the legalization of Christianity by Constantine in 313.
I’ll never forget my descent down that flight of stairs. The air became damp, and we could hear underground springs. We carefully navigated each step as we lost some of our light. And our voices echoed off the low ceiling and narrow walkway. Almost like the wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia, that flight of stairs was like a portal to a different time, a different place. It was as if those stairs took us back two thousand years in time. With each step, a layer of history was stripped away until all that was left was Christianity in all its primal glory.
As we navigated those claustrophobic catacombs, I was overcome by the fact that I was standing in a place where my spiritual ancestors risked everything, even their lives, to worship God. And I felt a profound mixture of gratitude and conviction. I live in a first-world country in the twenty-first century. And I’m grateful for the freedoms and blessings I enjoy because of where and when I live. But when you’re standing in an ancient catacomb, the comforts you enjoy make you uncomfortable. The things you complain about are convicting. And some of the sacrifices you’ve made for the cause of Christ might not even qualify under a second century definition.
As I tried to absorb the significance of where I was, I couldn’t help but wonder if our generation has conveniently forgotten how inconvenient it can be to follow in the footsteps of Christ. I couldn’t help but wonder if we have diluted the truths of Christianity and settled for superficialities. I couldn’t help but wonder if we have accepted a form of Christianity that is more educated but less powerful, more civilized but less compassionate, more acceptable but less authentic than that which our spiritual ancestors practiced.
Over the last two thousand years, Christianity has evolved in lots of ways. We’ve come out of the catacombs and built majestic cathedrals with all the bells and steeples. Theologians have given us creeds and canons. Churches have added pews and pulpits, hymnals and organs, committees and liturgies. And the IRS has given us 501(c)(3) status. And there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things. But none of those things is primal. And I wonder, almost like the Roman effect of building things on top of things, if the accumulated layers of Christian traditions and institutions have unintentionally obscured what lies beneath.
I’m not suggesting that we categorically dismiss all those evolutions as unbiblical. Most of them are simply abiblical. There aren’t precedents for them in Scripture, but they don’t contradict biblical principles either. I’m certainly not demonizing postmodern forms of worship. After all, the truth must be reincarnated in every culture in every generation. And I am personally driven by the conviction that there are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet. But two thousand years of history raises this question: when all of the superficialities are stripped away, what is the primal essence of Christianity?
In the pages that follow, I want you to descend that flight of stairs with me. I want us to go underground. I want us to go back in time. Think of it as a quest for the lost soul of Christianity. And by the time you reach the last page, I hope you will have done more than rediscover Christianity in its most primal form. I hope you will have gone back to the primal faith you once had. Or more accurately, the primal faith that once had you.
THE FAR SIDE OF COMPLEXITY
My kids are at that stage in their mathematical journey where they are learning about prime numbers. That means that, as a parent, I am relearning about prime numbers (along with every other math concept I have long since forgotten). A prime number is a number that is divisible only by itself and the number 1. And while an infinitude of prime numbers exists, the only even prime is the number 2.
Certain truths qualify as prime truths. Bible-believing, God-fearing, Christ-loving Christians will disagree about a variety of doctrinal issues until Jesus returns, whether that be pre-, mid-, or post-Tribulation. That is why we have hundreds of different denominations. But prime truths have an indivisible quality to them. And chief among them—the even prime, if you will—is what Jesus called the most important commandment. We call it the Great Commandment. It could also be called the Primal Commandment because it is of first importance.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with all your strength.1
Jesus was a genius. He had the ability to simplify complex spiritual truths in unforgettable and irrefutable ways. I’m afraid we tend to do the opposite. We complicate Christianity. That religious tendency to overcomplicate simple spiritual truths traces all the way back to a sect of Judaism known as the Pharisees. Over the span of hundreds of years, the Pharisees compiled a comprehensive list of religious dos and don’ts. Six hundred and thirteen, to be exact.2 Jesus peeled them back with one primal statement. When all of the rules and regulations, all of the traditions and institutions, all of the liturgies and methodologies are peeled back, what’s left is the Great Commandment. It is Christianity in its most primal form.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? If only it were as simple as it sounds.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, former chief justice of the Supreme Court, once made a perceptive distinction between two kinds of simplicity: simplicity on the near side of complexity and simplicity on the far side of complexity. He said, “I would not give a fig for simplicity on the near side of complexity.”
Many Christians settle for simplicity on the near side of complexity. Their faith is only mind deep. They know what they believe, but they don’t know why they believe what they believe. Their faith is fragile because it has never been tested intellectually or experientially. Near-side Christians have never been in the catacombs of doubt or suffering, so when they encounter questions they cannot answer or experiences they cannot explain, it causes a crisis of faith. For far-side Christians, those who have done their time in the catacombs of doubt or suffering, unanswerable questions and unexplainable experiences actually result in a heightened appreciation for the mystery and majesty of a God who does not fit within the logical constraints of the left brain. Near-side Christians, on the other hand, lose their faith before they’ve really found it.
Simplicity on the near side of complexity goes by another name: spiritual immaturity. And that’s not the kind of simplicity I’m advocating. God calls us to simplicity on the far side of complexity. For that matter, He calls us to faith on the far side of doubt, joy on the far side of sorrow, and love on the far side of anger. So how do we get there? Well, there are no easy answers or quick fixes. It involves unlearning and relearning everything we know. It involves deconstructing and reconstructing everything we do. It involves the painstaking process of rediscovering and reimagining the primal essence of Christianity. But the result is simplicity on the far side of complexity. And that is where this flight of stairs will take us if we have the courage to go underground.
THE PRIMAL PROBLEM
It goes without saying that Christianity has a perception problem. At the heart of the problem is the simple fact that Christians are more known for what we’re against than what we’re for. But the real problem isn’t perception. We as Christians are often quick to point out what’s wrong with our culture. And we certainly need the moral courage to stand up for what’s right in the face of what’s wrong. I live in the bastion of political correctness, where it is wrong to say that something is wrong. And that’s wrong. If we have to choose between political correctness and biblical correctness, we must choose biblical correctness every time. But before confronting what’s wrong with our culture, we need to be humble enough, honest enough, and courageous enough to repent of what’s wrong with us.
I pastor a church in Washington DC that is nearly 70 percent single twenty-somethings. Unfortunately, our demographics are an anomaly. By and large, twenty-somethings are leaving the church at an alarming rate. According to some statistics, 61 percent of twenty-somethings who grew up going to church will quit going to church in their twenties.3 And the temptation is to ask this question: what’s wrong with this generation? But that is the wrong question. The right question is this: what’s wrong with the church?
My answer is simply this: we’re not great at the Great Commandment. In too many instances, we’re not even good at it.
That, I believe, is our primal problem. That is the lost soul of Christianity. If Jesus said that loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength is the most important commandment, then doesn’t it logically follow that we ought to spend an inordinate amount of our time and energy trying to understand it and obey it? We can’t afford to be merely good at the Great Commandment. We’ve got to be great at the Great Commandment.
The quest for the lost soul of Christianity begins with rediscovering what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus used those four kaleidoscopic words to describe four dimensions of love. And there is certainly overlap among them. It’s hard to know where loving God with your heart ends and loving God with your soul begins. But one thing is sure: loving God in one way isn’t enough. It’s not enough to love God with just your heart or soul or mind or strength. We are called, even commanded, to love Him in all four ways. Think of it as love to the fourth power.
So the quest begins with rediscovery. But it ends with reimagination. Some truths can be deduced via left-brain logic. Others are better induced via right-brain imagination. Love falls into the latter category. So what follows is not a strict exposition of the Great Commandment. It’s a reimagination of the four primal elements detailed by Jesus in the Great Commandment:
The heart of Christianity is primal compassion.
The soul of Christianity is primal wonder.
The mind of Christianity is primal curiosity.
And the strength of Christianity is primal energy.
The descent down this flight of stairs into primal Christianity will be convicting at points, but the end result will be a renewed love for God that is full of genuine compassion, infinite wonder, insatiable curiosity, and boundless energy. Anything less is not enough. It’s not just unfulfilling, it’s also unfaithful. The quest is not complete until it results in catacomb-like convictions that go beyond conventional logic. The goal is a love that, as our spiritual ancestors understood, is worth living for and dying for.
THE WAY FORWARD
My aim in this book is to take you to new places intellectually and spiritually so that you discover new ways of loving God. But I also hope this book takes you back to a primal place where God loved you and you loved God. And that’s all that mattered.
I’ve discovered that when I’ve lost my way spiritually, the way forward is often backward. That is what we experience when we celebrate Communion, isn’t it? Communion is a pilgrimage back to the foot of the cross. And going back to that most primal place helps us find our way forward. So before going forward, let me encourage you to go backward. Go back to that place where God opened your eyes and broke your heart with compassion for others. Go back to that place where the glory of God flooded your soul and left you speechless with wonder. Go back to that place where thoughts about God filled your mind with holy curiosity. Go back to that place where a God-given dream caused a rush of adrenaline that filled you with supernatural energy.
Every year our entire church staff goes on a pilgrimage to the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. During one of the sessions this past year, our team was sitting in the balcony of the Gwinnett Center listening to my friend and the pastor of LifeChurch.tv, Craig Groeschel. And he asked this question: “Does your heart break for the things that break the heart of God?”
I felt a tremendous sense of conviction when Craig asked that question. As I sat in that balcony, surrounded by twelve thousand other leaders, I heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit said to my spirit in His kind yet convicting voice, Mark, what happened to the college kid who used to pace the chapel balcony seeking My face?
There are few things I hate more or appreciate more than the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is so painful. But it is so necessary. And I’m so grateful that God loves me enough to break me where I need to be broken. Can I make an observation? You cannot listen to just half of what the Holy Spirit has to say. It’s a package deal. If you aren’t willing to listen to everything He has to say, you won’t hear anything He has to say. If you tune out His convicting voice, you won’t hear His comforting voice or guiding voice either. As I was seated in that balcony, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the raw spiritual intensity I once had. He revealed how calloused my heart had become. And I realized that I had somehow lost my soul while serving God. And it wrecked me.
Does your heart break for the things that break the heart of God?
If it doesn’t, you need to repent. And that’s what I did that day. Our team is typically the first to hit the exit after the last session at conferences because, quite frankly, the first one to the restaurant wins. And we had reservations at one of my favorite restaurants, P.F. Chang’s. Love their lettuce wraps and spare ribs. I could almost taste them. But we couldn’t leave until we brought closure to what God was doing in the depths of our souls. So we delayed our reservation, found a conference room, and spent some time crying, confessing, and praying as a team. I think we were the last ones to leave the auditorium.
In the providence of God, I happened to be scheduled to speak at my alma mater in Springfield, Missouri, the next week. So a few days later I found myself in the chapel balcony where I had logged hundreds of hours pacing back and forth seeking God. It was during prayer times in that balcony when my heart began to break for the things that break the heart of God. It was there that God began to shape my soul to seek Him. It was there that God began to fill my mind with God ideas. It was in that balcony that God energized me by giving me a God-sized vision for my life.
Returning to that chapel balcony fifteen years later, I realized that in many ways I had become a paid professional Christian. My heart didn’t beat as strongly as it once did. My pulse didn’t quicken in the presence of God like it once had. So God took me back to a very primal place. And the Holy Spirit lovingly reminded me that the college kid with a huge heart for God was still somewhere inside me. I knew that getting back what I once had meant getting back to basics. It meant doing what I had once done. It meant rediscovering and reimagining what it means to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. And somewhere along the way, in my personal quest for my lost soul, I found it. Climbing those stairs into that chapel balcony was like descending those stairs into that ancient catacomb. God gave me back the compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy I once had, along with an even greater appreciation for what I had lost and found.
Is there a personal catacomb somewhere in your past? A place where you met God and God met you? A place where your heart broke with compassion? A place where your soul was filled with wonder? A place where your mind was filled with holy curiosity? A place where you were energized by a God-ordained dream? Maybe it was a sermon that became more than a sermon. God birthed something supernatural in your spirit. Maybe it was a mission trip or retreat. And you swore you’d never be the same again. Or maybe it was a dream or a vow or a decision you made at an altar. My prayer is that this book will take you down two thousand stairs back to that primal place—the place where loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is all that matters.
The quest for the lost soul of Christianity begins there.
Excerpted from Primal by Mark Batterson Copyright © 2009 by Mark Batterson. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted on May 1, 2014 by Family Christian
For most of a day, I’d been climbing a sharp incline of rocks and shale, for an outcropped ledge that would afford a better view than anywhere else in this strange land. Finally, scrambling up the last twenty feet, I stepped out on that ledge and looked. What I saw took my breath away.There it lay, stretched out against the horizon as far as I could see—the thing I’d been warned about, the thing I’d been told was ultimately unavoidable. The sight of it was even more devastating than I’d feared.Here I was, hoping to travel to the distant shining city, a world of wonders I absolutely had to reach. For my first thirty years, I’d never dreamed such a place even existed. Then when I started to believe it might, I tried like the devil to avoid thinking about it, for reasons I still don’t understand. And now here I stood, all hopes of reaching that magical place dashed. Before me lay the biggest obstacle imaginable.No, it was absolutely unimaginable. That great yawning chasm took my breath away. An abyss of staggering proportions. I had once stood with my family, when I had one, gazing down into the Grand Canyon. I’d been swept away by its grandeur for a few minutes before needing to pack up the kids, grab a hamburger, and get them to the hotel. But this endless rift, this hole in the universe, made the Grand Canyon appear in comparison as the grave I dug when ten years old, to bury my old dog Ranger. It seemed infinitely large, deep and foreboding, containing not a shred of beauty. It stripped my heart of hope. For clearly the Chasm meant that the city calling to me from the great beyond, if it were real at all, lay forever out of reach.All that mattered for me was the place I could still glimpse on the horizon, far beyond the impassible barrier spread out below me. I had to get there—I had to reach that stunning capital of a great undiscovered country, that shining city that rested on the great white mountain. The place named Charis.My name is Nick Seagrave. My story is true, though what world it happened in is hard for me to say. The memories burn in my brain, more real and weighty than what we call the real world. Before I tell you the incredible events that unfolded next, what happened to me at that chasm, I must first take you back to explain what led up to the moments I have just described. Only then can you understand me and my story, and perhaps unfold its meaning.I remember like it was yesterday that moment when I caught my first glimpse of Charis, glimmering in the distance. Initially I thought the remote city seemed cold, even oppressive. Our band of travelers that day had rounded a bend shaded by rock towers, and there it was, off to the west, rising high on a ridge. Silently, we all stared at it.From where we stood, all we could see between us and the mountain crowned by Charis were rolling green hills scrawled with various pathways, including a ribbon of red. This was the “red road” I’d first learned of in some ancient inscriptions in a cave I’d entered one evening to escape a pounding rain and crashing thunderstorm—and something far worse. But that’s another story, to tell another time.As my traveling companions and I continued absorbing our first glimpse of the faraway city on the summit, it took only a moment for my heightened vision to pierce its walls. How did this happen? I can’t explain it, but I was as certain of my perception as I could be. My intuition told me that the light was but a ruse, that inside the city all was dank and shadowy. And enthroned there sat a dreadful, intolerant tyrant, squashing creativity and initiative, enslaving any subjects foolish enough to have entered the city. I envisioned him granting his slaves freedom enough to make a mistake just so he could condemn them for it and command their execution.I’d long ago learned to trust my instincts, which had helped make me such a successful businessman and entrepreneur. And those prized instincts assured me this city was a monument to the pride of some self-proclaimed, glory-hungry sovereign who delighted in robbing men of their dignity. A strangely confident assessment for one who knew so little. But if I lacked something in those days, it was not confidence.As this insight percolated within me, our silence was broken by one of my companions—a white-haired, craggy-faced man they called Shadrach, dressed in a tattered toga. “Behold,” he said, air moving through a gap in his teeth, “Charis, the City of Light.”Light? What about the shadows I felt certain lie within? How could that old geezer be fool enough to trust that light on the outside meant light within?Then suddenly another traveler, a young African woman named Malaiki, her face glowing, gasped, “Do you hear it? Music!”I heard nothing. Who was she trying to trick, and why?With enchanting fervor Malaiki exclaimed, “Songs of life and learning, choruses of pleasure and adventure! In a thousand languages!” She broke into dancing, soon joined by some of the others.Were they trying to make fools of themselves? The uncomfortable thought struck me that perhaps I envied them, wishing I had a reason to dance. I quickly pushed the thought away.Even as they twirled and high-stepped, they kept looking toward the city. Following their gaze, I found my perception changing, despite my resistance. The coldness of the place was gradually replaced by light and warmth and by what seemed to be the radiant energy of people there celebrating. The city began to shimmer on the horizon, touched by sparkling blues and greens and golds that blended with the sky and sunlight, pulsing in and out of my vision.Soon I, too, could hear music from the city and then what sounded like a geyser of laughter exploding from a fountain of joy.My traveling comrades went on to speak of Charis as the city of a certain king whom they described in fantastic language. But my ingrained skepticism welled up and overtook me again. How could they make such claims? For reasons I couldn’t grasp, I refused to let myself fall in with these people or be drawn to this city that enchanted them. I could not surrender control of my life’s journey or its destination. I was master of my fate and captain of my soul. Besides, I reminded myself, I knew of someone who could take me elsewhere, to a better place.I’d met Joshua on the morning I stumbled out of that cave, when I’d wandered in a daze, not knowing where I really was. I started running, and as I came into an oak grove, a man bounded in my direction. He was tall, muscular, and handsome, with a neatly trimmed copper beard. He wore sandals and an emerald toga, cinched at his slender waist with a braided red cord. Though his dress was like a statesman’s from another era, he somehow appeared modern and fashionable.“Welcome, Nick,” he called in a rich, clear voice, smiling broadly.I wanted to grill him with a dozen questions, starting with, “How do you know my name?” and “Where are we?” and “How did I get here?” But I didn’t want to reveal too much about myself and my ignorance.“Call me Joshua,” he said, extending his arm. I was struck by the strength of his grip. I couldn’t help staring into his eyes—morning-glory eyes, radiant blue windows of experience and knowledge and promise, deep-set eyes I could get lost in.He invited me to join a group of travelers he was with, but at the time I preferred to go farther on my own. Joshua put his arm around me. “Go if you must,” he said, then gave me a solemn look. “But be careful whom you trust.” This country, he explained, was beautiful but not always safe.Here was a man with inside information, and I wanted to know what he knew. Still, for some reason, I held back from asking him. As I turned to go on my way, Joshua smiled broadly and waved his great right arm, bronzed and powerful.Soon I met him again, after I’d joined another group—the travelers on the red road who’d shared with me that first faraway glimpse of Charis. The old man Shadrach—who seemed overly confident about what was true and what wasn’t—had warned me against nearly everything I found interesting, including spending time with Joshua. But by now I wasn’t sure about the red road and where it led, and I certainly wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in the company of those travelers, Shadrach in particular. I told Joshua, “I’d like to check out some other options.”“I’d be happy to serve as your guide,” he answered. He led me off the red road and down a series of roads that were gray—roads that promised me all the things I’d ever wanted.When we first set out, Joshua pointed ahead and told me, “Lead the way, my friend.” Though he was my guide, he showed me respect by walking to my side, a step behind me, giving me a sense of control. I liked that.
I was in conquer mode, so we marched down the terrain at a fast clip. It was a plunging path at first, filled with sharp turns and lined with thornbushes that kept nipping at my pant legs. After an hour, we hadn’t reached a single rise in the trail.“Does this path only go down?” I asked.Joshua laughed and answered, “To the very heart of things!”The path kept descending, and our pace kept accelerating.Finally, after dropping into a treacherous bog, we came to an intersecting path that rose upward toward firmer ground. Reaching the top of a slope and emerging from some trees, I came to a halt. Before me, positioned amid a half-dozen towering spires of rock, stood a glass and granite high-rise building. The sight of it was dreamlike yet so vivid, down to every detail. As I walked toward the structure, heart pounding, I stopped abruptly. This was the office building where I worked! I’d never seen it like this, isolated from the surrounding cityscape, as if it had been uprooted by some alien power and transported here.I entered the familiar ground-level front door with Joshua a step behind. We took the elevator to the twenty-fifth floor, and I instinctively walked through the maze of work stations toward my corner office. Joshua gazed approvingly at the view through the windows towering beside us. “You belong here, don’t you?” he asked me.I nodded. This was my world, and I had sailed its waters as expertly as any sea captain had ever commanded his ship and his men.Inside my office, Joshua said with a gesture of his hand, “This is what you were made for, isn’t it?”
Before I could answer, my attention was drawn to a photograph on the desk, a picture of my wife and two children. It had been taken three years earlier, when we still lived together. I hadn’t been able to get away from the office that day to make the appointment at the studio, but my wife told the photographer to take the picture anyway. “It’s more realistic with just the three of us,” she said to me later, twisting the knife.Joshua and I left the office. But after stepping off the elevator and out the front door, everything went out of focus—until I suddenly found myself with Joshua in my condo, listening to classical music. The absence of transition made me think I must be dreaming, yet I was completely lucid, and my blue recliner was as tangible as could be, right down to the little coffee stain on the right arm.For a few hours, I was immersed in a whirlpool of melancholy and reflection, going wherever the melodies led, over the mountains and valleys and through the deserts of my life. Especially the deserts.“The music’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Joshua said.“Yes. Beautiful.”I followed him as he walked down a hallway lined on one side with oak shelves filled with books. “Commendable,” Joshua commented as he pulled out volumes here and there. “You have a genuine thirst for truth.”He fixed those radiant blue eyes on me. “I know you can find what you seek on one of the roads traveled by the great minds. Choose any of them. I’ll take you there in an instant. And if you don’t like one of them, I’ll take you to the next and then the next.”For some reason I shook my head, believing there was something more I wanted, something no great thinker could lead me to.No sooner had I turned down this offer than we materialized back on a gray road. Before us stood more buildings rising up from the rocks and sagebrush. We entered a maze of mall interiors, where my eyes were drawn to displays of home theaters, power tools, antique guns, shiny knives, snow skis, camping gear, sports clothing. We looked over a balcony to see spotlights zooming over showroom floors filled with the latest-model cars and pickup trucks, boats and RVs, snowmobiles and motorcycles.Then the spotlights melted into marquee lights. Joshua and I walked into a fine restaurant filled with people in fine clothes drinking fine wines. My heart suddenly buoyed when I saw a woman alone at one of the tables, a woman who’d been part of the group of travelers I was with earlier. She looked so beautiful tonight, so slight and delicate, dressed so elegantly. I studied every inch of her. The longer I looked, the more she filled my heart.
“Go sit with her,” Joshua suggested. He led me by the arm and took me to her table, then excused himself. “I have other things to take care of.”The woman seemed pleased to see me. We dined alone and toasted with champagne. When the music began, we danced. I felt intoxicated.She kissed me, then smiled and said she had to go.“Can I…go with you?”“Not tonight,” she whispered, but she smiled as she walked away, and her eyes said yes.
Posted on April 30, 2014 by Family Christian
New York Frontier, 1784
The woman who had been Burning Sky had kept off the warrior path that came down from the north through mountains, along the courses of rivers and creeks. Doing so meant traveling slow, over steep ground unfriendly to trudging feet, but she had not wanted to be seen by men on the path. Red men or white men.
She’d slept on the cold ground thirteen times before she saw the stone that marked the end of her journey—and the boundary of her papa’s land, the place she once called home. Time had not dimmed it in her memory. The stone, tall as a man and pointed as a blade, thrust from the crest of a ridge. But with her step quickened and her gaze fixed on it as she neared, she failed to notice the dog slithering out of the laurel thicket below the stone, until the muddy animal stood in her path and showed its teeth. The woman who had been Burning Sky halted, shaken less by the dog than by her own inattention. If Tames-His-Horse had been there, he would have scolded her for it.
He was not there, but another was.
The sun had slipped from behind clouds and sent a shaft of light lancing down the ridge into the laurels, full across the man lying in the thicket, showing her a booted foot, a length of knee breeches, a hand cradled on the breast of a brown coat. A white hand.
She caught her breath, while the blood thundered in her ears. When neither the man nor the dog moved, fear began to sift from her like chaff through a winnowing basket. The dog was only standing guard. But over the living or the dead?
It was tempting to assume the latter, but for this: the man lay on her papa’s side of the boundary stone. The significance of that settled on her, a heavier burden than the long-trail basket she’d carried on her back these
many days. Maybe the man was dead and it would not matter what she did, but she could not turn her back and walk on as though she had not seen him.
There was still the problem of the dog in her way. It was one of those bred for bullying sheep, black and white, rough coated. The English word for it surfaced in her mind: collie.
The woman who had been Burning Sky slipped the tumpline from her forehead and the cord loops from her arms, lowering the basket to the ground. She gripped the musket slung at her side, even as she spoke kindly in the language of the People. “You are a good dog, guarding your man. Tohske’ wahi. It is so?”
The collie did not alter its rigid stance.
It occurred to her the dog might not know the speech of the Kanien’kehá:ka, called Mohawks by the whites. She tried English, which felt to her like speaking with pebbles in the mouth.
“You will let me near him, yes?” She took a step toward the laurels. The collie moved its matted tail side to side. “Good dog.”
She set her musket within reach and turned her attention to the man. He was too tangled in the laurels to have crawled in. Likely he’d fallen from the ridge above. Not a long drop, but steep. Closer now, she could see his face. Even for a white man, it was pale, the hollows of his closed eyes bruised, sickly. Hair almost black stuck to his brow in stiffened curls. While the dog nosed her heels, she wrenched away twigs, keeping one eye on the man’s still face. With the small hatchet from her sash, she hacked away larger branches, sending down a shower of leaves and insects, until she knelt beside the man. He had not stirred, but the warmth of his breath against her palm told her he lived. From the way he cradled his right arm across his chest, she knew it to be injured. His legs lay straight and seemed undamaged, save for scrapes where his leg coverings had torn in the fall. Not leg coverings, she thought. Stockings.
She did not know about his ribs, or what hurts might lurk beneath them. Moving him might cause further injury, but he could not remain as he was, unless she stayed and cared for him. She tipped back her head, lifting her eyes to the boundary stone, then to the sky at which it pointed. Why the man? Why now, so near her journey’s end?
Neither the stone nor its Maker gave answer. For whatever inscrutable reason, the Great Good God—the Almighty—had placed this man in her path, as He’d removed so many others from it.
It did not seem a fair exchange. But sitting there, wishing it was not so, would change nothing. This she well knew.
Returning to the basket, she found a length of sturdy basswood cord. With the hatchet, she cut cedar saplings to serve for poles and crosspieces, then retrieved the elk hide from her bedding. Through all this and the building of the travois, the dog milled about, whining. She met its fretful gaze but had no promises to make it. She would do what she could. Though she was strong for a woman, and tall, the man’s deadweight proved no easy burden. While she maneuvered him out of the laurels, she expected him to rouse. But not until she knelt to secure him to the travois, sweating from the exertion, did she look up to find his eyes open. He had blue eyes—the drenching blue of trade beads—and they were fixed on her in glittering bewilderment and pain.
Responding to his pain, she touched his face to reassure him. His beard was coming in. The rasp of it against her palm stirred memories. Papa’s face had sometimes rasped with stubble, against the touch of her childish hand. Not black stubble—reddish brown like her own hair. Was it red still, or had the years made it white?
Then she thought she should stop touching the face of this man who was not Papa, whatever memories he stirred, but her fingers stayed pressed to the cold, bristly cheek.
While she hesitated, bewilderment fled the man’s blue-bead eyes, replaced by something like awe, then a look she had not seen in another face since the day she watched the longhouse burn. He was gazing at her with the trust of a child, innocent and complete.
“Oh, aye, that’s all right, then,” he said. The warmth of his breath brushed her face as he exhaled, closing his startling eyes.
The woman who had been Burning Sky sat back on her heels, stabbed beneath her ribs by a blade so sharp she wanted to beat her breasts to drive it out. Never again had she wanted to see that look of trust on the face of the sick, the dying. She’d fled far, thinking she could outdistance that sorrowful pairing. Had she not seen suffering enough to fill a lifetime?
A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench. The words settled in her mind like a hand on the shoulder, large and steadying. She drew a breath through lungs that fought with grief for space inside her, and looked at the man on the travois. A bruised reed. There would be many such scattered over the land, broken and uprooted by the war just past. She was not the only one.
Though she was no longer adept at judging the ages of white men, this one seemed young. Not as young as she, though she doubted he was past thirty winters. No white threaded his hair, and the lines at the corners of his eyes were faintly drawn. The quality of his woolen coat marked him a man of consequence. Not a farmer, she thought.
She could not begin to guess why he was there, fallen on the edge of what the whites called the Great Northern Wilderness, a sea of forest rolling away in mounting crests to Canada, where the redcoat soldiers of the defeated English king had retreated since the war to lick their wounds.
Was he someone Papa knew, here by his leave? If so, Papa would be glad she helped him.
She wanted Papa to be glad when he saw her again. If he saw her again.
Though the long winter had finally ended, the day was chill for the moon of budding leaves. She unrolled her rabbit-skin cloak and spread it over the man. She gathered the few belongings she found scattered around him and secured them on the travois. One of those was a small glass bottle, dark with the liquid it contained. She uncorked the glass, put it to her nose, and grimaced at the bittersweetness of opium dissolved in spirits. Was this the reason he’d fallen, or had he found it afterward and dosed himself to bear his injuries? It explained why he had remained unconscious, save for that brief moment.
Perhaps, even then, he had been in a dream’s grip and had not really seen her. Perhaps that look of trust had been for someone else. She greatly hoped so.
She corked the bottle and dropped it into her carrying basket. The snow thaw had passed on the lower slopes, leaving only the marshy places impassable with mud. There on the ridge, the ground was moist but not saturated. Gripping the travois poles, she hoisted her burden and picked herself a path through the wide-spaced trees, while the dog followed.
Though the going now was even slower, the land beneath her feet grew more familiar with each step. In her mind she rushed ahead, seeing it in memory—its fertile dips and rocky ridges, the broad noisy creek called Black Kettle, the lake with its tiny islet, the broad flats where Papa grew his corn and wheat. The clearing where the barn and cabin stood. So close now. Relief and dread warred in her belly.
She found the little stream where she remembered it to be, and the footpath that followed its winding course south, then east, then south again. She saw no tracks of men, but the deer had kept it clear. Though the travois passed with little hindrance, the man’s weight dragged at her shoulders, causing a burn across the muscles of her back and arms. The basket’s tumpline, tight across her brow, strained the bones of her neck. She turned her mind from the pain, continuing as she had done through each day of her journey. One foot, then the other. A step, and another. As she went, she spoke aloud a name, one she had not heard for many years, and so she said it with care, her enunciation precise.
The collie trotted up beside her, ears perked, already accustomed to her voice. The woman who had been Burning Sky nodded to the dog, whose name she did not know.
“Wilhelmina Obenchain,” she said, more assuredly this time. “But you may call me Willa.”
Excerpted from Burning Sky by Lori Benton Copyright © 2013 by Lori Benton. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted on April 29, 2014 by Family Christian
An Extraordinary Mystery
Sometimes, when an idea just won’t go away, you need to pay attention to how God is nudging you. That’s what happened with this book.
Tricia and I have been friends for almost two decades, and both of us are writers. But our life stories as well as our love stories are radically different. Beyond writing, we do have one interesting commonality: both of us prayed for our future husbands when we were teens. But how did that add up to our writing a book together? Three incidents convinced us we should…
The first moment of inspiration fell on me with a weighty sense of urgency one bright November afternoon. I was in Brazil, standing in front of three hundred teen girls in a school cafeteria. My Christy Miller and Sierra Jensen novels for teens have been translated into Portuguese, and the teachers at this school use the books as part of their curriculum. That meant all the girls had read the books. When my husband and I entered the cafeteria, the girls greeted us with a wave of screams as if we were the real Christy and Todd all grown up and visiting them in Brazil.
To quiet down the screaming girls, I asked the translator to invite them to ask questions. One of the girls raised her hand and popped up from her seat. In Portuguese she asked me what she and her friends should do since the boys in Brazil weren’t reading my books.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She spoke passionately as the translator beside me explained.
“She says that, after reading your books, she and her friends are making good decisions. They’ve given their lives to Christ and now want to stay pure and save themselves for their future husbands. But, you see, the boys of Brazil are not reading these books. They are not making these same decisions. She wants to know what can be done about that.”
My heart pounded. Every face in that cafeteria was fixed on me, waiting for an answer. The young woman had just identified a global problem for our present generation of Christian women. I had heard this frustration voiced many times in letters and e-mails I had received from readers over the years. But no one had ever asked me what could be done to change this dilemma of an unbalanced ratio between God-honoring young women and their male contemporaries who were slow to seek God. What could I tell her?
The words that came out of my heart were, “You can start praying for your future husband now.”
The translator gave her my answer, and a reverent hush fell over the room. Before me was a troop of willing but untrained young women ready to enter the warzone to fight for the young men. But how?
I wished then that I had something more to offer those girls. It’s one thing to tell them to pray and another thing to come alongside and show them what that looks like. If only, I thought, a book existed. I wished one of my nonfiction writer friends would hurry up and write it. None of them seemed to have a passion for such a book.
The second defining moment came two years later. Tricia and I were at a writers’ retreat in California. During the afternoon break, we headed out to the pool. I settled in a lounge chair and wrote notes in my journal for a novel I was working on. Tricia succumbed to the luxurious autumn sunshine and floated off into a deep sleep.
Suddenly she woke up, turned to me, and said, “What?” as if I’d been talking to her while she slept.
I looked at her and spoke an unpremeditated thought. “Tricia, we need to write a book together.”
“Okay.” She didn’t even blink before sinking back into her afternoon lull. A moment later her head rose again. “What are we supposed to write about?”
“I have no idea.”
The gentle notion flitted past me as softly as it had fallen on Tricia. We caught the little inspiration the way an artist would reach for a floating feather or a child would bend to pick up a pale blue pebble and tuck it in a pocket.
Over the next year or so we periodically pulled the small inspiration out of our pockets and talked about what we should write. We had lots of ideas, as all creative people do. But the affirmation and direction wasn’t there. So we waited, and we prayed…
The third moment of inspiration came with such defining clarity we knew what the book was to be about.
Tricia and I were in Montana, preparing to speak at a women’s retreat. The night before the retreat we sneaked off to a lodge for some last-minute planning. I entered the lodge first while Tricia parked the car in the snow. A darling little strawberry blond toddler trotted over to me, put up his arms, and allowed me to scoop him up. His surprised young mom told me his name was Toby, he was eighteen months old, and he was usually not that friendly with strangers. Toby patted my face.
Tricia entered, and Toby’s mother froze. She stared at Tricia and in a shaking voice said, “It’s you! You’re the one who spoke at the luncheon two years ago.”
Tricia spoke often at events for teenage girls and women in Montana, so I doubted she would remember this particular young woman from a luncheon two years ago. The mom said, “Do you remember that you talked about being a teen mom and that you prayed God would send you a Christian husband?”
“I did the same thing. I prayed and…” She leaned in closer. “I don’t know if you remember my telling you this after the luncheon, but I had just found out I was pregnant.”
“I remember,” Tricia said.
“I was scheduled for an abortion just a few days later.” The young woman gazed at Toby cuddled up in my arms. “But after I heard your story and what you said about how God answered your prayers, I cancelled the appointment for the abortion, and I prayed for a husband, just like you did.”
Her smile widened, and tears formed in her eyes as she told Tricia, “I always wanted to see you again so I could tell you that God answered my prayers. He brought an amazing Christian guy into my life. He loves me, and he loves my son. We’ve been married for almost a year. When I think about what my life would be like right now if I hadn’t heard your story and did what you said…”
By then we were all hugging and crying and hugging some more. Toby climbed into Tricia’s arms and received her cuddles and kisses. We couldn’t stop crying. It was such a beautiful moment. The room seemed full of light and hope.
After Toby and his mama went their way, Tricia and I sat together in stunned silence. We both knew this was it—this was the theme of the book we needed to write together: praying for your future husband. We also knew we were the two unlikely novelists being invited to pour our hearts into this project. And so we did.
As we wrote, what tumbled from our hearts surprised us. We didn’t compose a handbook on techniques or formula for effective prayer. Through the ages many wonderful such books have been written. Instead, what we saw forming, as we met together to pray and write, was a book anchored with true stories about what happens when women pray for their future husbands and the ways God answers those prayers.
Both of us agreed to tell our own stories on these pages. This took some courage. Dozens of other women gave us permission to tell portions of their stories as well—how they prayed, how God chose to answer, and how their lives changed in the process. This took courage for them as well. We pulled from our Bibles and journals favorite scriptures and excerpts. These quotes worked perfectly to lace the chapters together.
As the book took shape, we discovered that prayer is an extraordinary mystery.
This sacred privilege of communicating with our Heavenly Father is more than a cozy, open invitation to come to Him anytime, anywhere. Even though His ears are open to the cries of His children 24/7, prayer is more than that. Prayer is also an act of obedience. We are exhorted to pray for others and to pray without ceasing.
Neither Tricia nor I pretend to have prayer all figured out. What we do know is that God hears. He sees. He knows us. He cares more than we can ever comprehend. And most important of all, God answers prayer.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that oftentimes the way God answers prayers isn’t what we expect. We look back years later and see that what God did was oh so much better than what we first envisioned when we sent our heartfelt requests heavenward. He created us, and He desires the best for us. God always gives His best to those who leave the outcomes with Him.
Another, even more amazing mystery is that when we pray for someone else, we change. All of us were made both to give love and to receive love. When your heart connects through prayer to the One who is the source of true love, you’ll find that praying for your future husband will wondrously result in your heart being changed. And when your heart is changed, your life is transformed.
What sort of changes will God bring about in the life of your future husband as a result of your praying for him now? We don’t know.
As you pray for him, what sort of changes will God initiate in your heart? We don’t know that either.
But we do know there’s only one way to find out…
Excerpted from Praying for Your Future Husband by Robin Jones Gunn and Tricia Goyer Copyright © 2011 by Robin Jones Gunn and Tricia Goyer. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted on April 28, 2014 by Family Christian
Hello and welcome to my first Christian devotional. This book draws on material from two of my previous books, Life Without Limits and Unstoppable. It is intended to provide you with a series of quick inspirational and faith-building stories to be read daily or whenever you feel you need them. There are no rules other than God’s.
I do want to comment on the title, Limitless, which refers not to my abilities or your abilities but to God’s limitless love and power. As you may already know from my speeches, books, and videos—or you may suspect from photographs— I am technically more limited physically than most people.
I was born without arms or legs. Though I lacked limbs, I was blessed with a loving and supportive family that includes not just my parents and my brother and sister (both of whom came fully equipped) but also many cousins, aunts, and uncles. Even better, I was given the gift of Christian faith.
That’s not to say I did not struggle with my faith, especially when I reached those difficult adolescent years when we all try to figure out our place in the world—where we fit in and what we have to contribute. I prayed to God that I would wake up with arms and legs. Those prayers were not answered. I grew angry and then depressed. Thoughts of suicide drove me to make an attempt on my own life, but I stopped short when I realized my death would burden my loved ones with guilt and grief.
Over time, I came to understand that God had not brought me into the world without limbs to punish me. Instead, He had a plan for me, an incredible plan to serve Him by inspiring and leading others to lives of Christian faith.
If God can take someone like me, someone without arms and legs, and use me as His hands and feet, He can use anybody. It’s not about ability. The only thing God needs from you is a willing heart.
What do you need to live in faith on this earth and then to be blessed with eternal life in the kingdom of heaven? You need a relationship with Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Where you are weak, God is strong. When you walk in faith each and every day, your life has no limits.
You can take that on faith, which I highly recommend, or you can take it from the pages that follow, which offer my life as testimony to the incredible power of the Lord our God. I am a man who is not disabled but enabled. I travel the world on God’s business, reaching out to believers and sinners, rich and poor. I’m allowed to deliver my messages of faith, hope, and love in nations where many Christians fear to tread.
I have a ridiculously good life, and now since my marriage in 2012, I have the honor and the joy of sharing it with a strong Christian wife who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. In my days of despair, one of my most depressing thoughts was that no woman could ever love a man without arms or legs. I was so, so wrong. My vision was limited. I forgot that ours is a loving God, wise in ways that we cannot comprehend.
Like me, you may not be able to see or even imagine what He has in store for you. My goal with this devotional is to help you expand your vision and build your faith by sharing what God has done for me and for the special men, women, and children I’ve met in my travels around the world.
I hope you enjoy the devotions and you benefit from them. But more important, I hope they help you get on the right track with God so that you are transformed with Him and come to trust that, through Him, all things are possible.
Excerpted from Limitless by Nick Vujicic Copyright © 2013 by Nick Vujicic. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted on April 18, 2014 by Family Christian
As Samuel was helping Rhoda gather cards, Landon’s cell phone buzzed, and he reached into his pocket. He usually glanced at it and slid it back into his pocket unless his grandmother was calling. But this time his smile faded, and he held the phone out toward Samuel. “It’s the number from your family’s farm in Pennsylvania.”
Since the only phone for this place was in the barn office and they spent very little time out there when it was below freezing, Samuel had given Landon’s number to his Daed in case of an emergency. The room grew quiet, and all eyes were on Samuel. He took the phone and slid his finger across the screen. “Hallo.”
“Samuel, what’s going on up there?”
His Daed’s tone was severe, and a bad feeling washed over Samuel. “Can you hold for a few minutes and let me get elsewhere?”
Samuel got up, hitting the mute button. “I need to talk to him, but apparently there isn’t an emergency.”
Leah tossed her cards onto the pile. “I’m done.”
Landon and Steven nodded and gathered the cards. Clearly, the mood was broken. Samuel had fielded many more calls from his Daed lately, each one less tolerant of this new settlement than the previous call.
Leah moved from the floor to the couch. “For him to stay this riled, he must be on that Amish chat line again, hearing negative stuff about us.” She sighed and rolled her eyes. “They ought to call it what it is—the Amish gossip line.”
“Leah, kumm alleweil.” Steven’s gentle correction was meant to settle her, and as the only church leader for this new settlement, his words carried weight.
While walking into the kitchen, Samuel turned off the mute. “Hey, Daed. I’m surprised you’re using Landon’s cell when there’s no emergency.”
“It might be a crisis. What’s this rumor I’ve heard about Leah seeing that Englisch assistant of Rhoda’s?”
Samuel pressed his lips together. Which of the new Amish families that had moved here over the last six months had shared that information? Apparently someone intended to end the relationship.
“Leah is in her rumschpringe, Daed.”
“But I let her leave Pennsylvania under your charge, and I’m not going to put up with these rumors.”
Dozens of arguments ran through Samuel’s mind. As he opened his mouth to rebut, he saw movement in the living room that caught his attention.
The three women—Rhoda, Leah, and Phoebe—had moved to the couch. Arie was sitting in Leah’s lap, and her hair had been taken down from its bun. Leah brushed Arie’s hair as the women whispered and giggled. They worked hard and loved deeply. He’d never witnessed the kind of unison they had.
“Samuel,” his Daed growled, “are you even listening to me?”
Samuel’s mouth went dry as angst grabbed hold of him. He’d been clinging to the hope that if he handled the situation right between his Daed and Leah, he could keep all the relationships intact. Had it been a false hope?
The Amish had ways of applying constant pressure when they disagreed with someone’s behavior, and if that failed to change the person’s actions, he or she was shunned. Not officially through the church, but through mandatory actions that said you’re not welcome here anymore unless you change. How could he possibly shun Leah? Worse, how could Rhoda and Phoebe do so? But if it came to the point of shunning her and they didn’t do as told, they would be subject to the same treatment.
Besides, Steven was a church leader now. He and Phoebe would have to uphold the Ordnung, or the consequences would be unbearable. Maybe Daed just needed a reminder of who was the spiritual head here.
“Steven is working with Leah, praying for her, guiding her as he sees fit.”
“He’s young, not yet thirty, and some don’t think he’s handling the Old Ways as carefully as he should. Others doubt he should’ve been chosen since his sister remains under a shadow of doing witchcraft.”
“That’s absurd. Rhoda doesn’t—”
“Save it, Samuel. I heard on the chat line that a bishop in Berks County is thinking of moving his family to your area. If he does, he’ll outrank Steven and bring the kind of order Orchard Bend Amish should’ve had all along.”
Every Amish person who’d helped establish this new settlement firmly believed in the Amish ways and culture, but they had pushed a lot of lines since arriving here sixteen months ago. Their hearts were in the right place, but sometimes the Amish rules got in the way of believers following their consciences. That’s when those on Orchard Bend Farms bent the rules, and Samuel didn’t regret doing so.
Somehow Samuel had to stop his Daed from doing anything that would cause the Old Ways to move into this home like a poisonous gas, choking the breath out of the relationships.
Excerpted from Seasons of Tomorrow by Cindy Woodsmall Copyright © 2014 by Cindy Woodsmall. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.